Cleopatra’s veeltaligheid

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This paper argues that the many languages allegedly spoken by Cleopatra VII (Plutarch, Life of Antony 27.2-4) were part of a court ritual and should be understood in the context of imperial ideology and rhetoric. They can be read as a blueprint of Cleopatra’s (imagined) empire, an empire which consists of regions more often claimed by the Ptolemies: the Red Sea, Nubia, Egypt, Nabataea, and the Levant, with the addition of the former Seleucid Upper Satrapies, yet to be conquered by Marc Antony, that Cleopatra because of her Seleucid ancestry could claim as her inheritance. This rhetoric stands in a Near Eastern and Egyptian tradition of summing up the peoples that constitute the world empire, and emphasizing control over faraway lands. Another important conclusion to be drawn from Plutarch’s list of languages, is that also African populations to the south of Egypt featured prominently in Cleopatra’s imperial rhetoric – something that our Mediterranean-focused narrative sources, as well as most modern historians, are usually not very interested in.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153–175
Number of pages22
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023


  • Ancient History
  • Hellenistic World
  • Imperialism
  • Ancient Near East
  • Ptolemaic Egypt
  • Ptolemaic Empire
  • Cleopatra
  • Ancient Africa


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